Posts Tagged ‘Information’

Knowns and Unknowns

November 6, 2020

Are we really better off now than we used to be? In the old days we knew what we knew, and we knew there were things we didn’t know.  Today with the growth of data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, there are many more things we know and even more that we know we don’t know.  There are even things we could know but don’t bother to know, mainly because we don’t need to know them.  Someone else, or increasingly something else knows them for us, thus saving us the bother of knowing them.

We even discover from time to time that there are things we know that we didn’t know that we knew.  We are beginning to suspect that, more than all the things we know and know we don’t know, there are even more things we don’t know that we don’t know.  But we don’t know for sure that we don’t know them. If we knew this for sure (if we knew them) then it would just add to the things that we know that we don’t know and would no longer be unknown unknowns.[i]

It is kind of like the names of things.  Sometimes there are multiple names given to the same thing, and sometimes multiple things have the same name.  Of the two suboptimal situations multiple things with the same name is always the more vexing.  This is usually an intra-language problem and not inter-language problem, which makes it even more troubling.  You would expect a person speaking a different language would have a different name for something, but you might expect (wrongly it seems) that people speaking the same language would have the same name or names for the same thing.  Worse, people of the same language often have different polymorphic descriptors referring to the same object. 

What is even worse, a monomorphic descriptor can refer to a set of objects that can either overlap (like a Venn diagram[ii]) or be totally discontinuous, often without people even knowing that they don’t know.


[i] Conceptualized by Donald Rumsfeld February 2002.  Things we are neither aware of nor understand.

[ii] Conceived around 1880 by John Venn, according to Wikipedia.

Information Entropy

February 9, 2019

Is there a maximum amount of data about any given subject above which the incremental value of any additional data begins to approach zero? Even more starkly is there a point where more data about a given subject may actually begin to have a negative effect, in that it actually decreases the amount of information about the subject?

I don’t mean that newer data may prove that old data about the subject is no longer accurate and therefore render the old data out of date. In which case the old data would still exist but no longer be relevant. I’m talking about a situation where the informational content, i.e. the payload of the data, will actually decrease. This would be a situation when we know less about a subject at some point in the future than we knew in the past, based on all the data there is on the subject. I think it would have to have something to do with context, with the passage of time, and the associations between units of data about the subject and data about other subjects. The more connections, the more information a body of data has.

This is a tricky speculation. I mean, is it possible to actually know less at some point than was previously known? Not for just a single person, as sometimes happens as we age and simply forget the information we previously could recall about a subject. I am talking about the accumulated knowledge about a subject. It is kind of like a subject becoming simpler over time rather than more complex. Which is pretty much the opposite of observed reality.

In fact, this just may be what happens as we approach absolute and universal entropy. I am not a physicist but why would this not be the case? There would be two aspects to this, not only would universal entropy eliminate any differences between things, but the differences between parties, places and time would cease to exist as well. Not only would there be less information on all subjects, but there would be less and less subjects to have information about. Nor would there be anyone to have and be responsible for information, even if it did still exit.